TELEVISION / A mix'n'match made in hell

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The Independent Culture
AT Royal Ascot (BBC1) the hot tip was Co-ordination. We got this straight from the horse's mouth: Eve Pollard. After years as trackside fashion commentator, Eve has lost none of that breathy banality so vital to an occasion where it is still considered better form to put your Gucci pump in your mouth than some cheek in your tongue. On Ladies' Day, Eve's cup and her hat (sapphire sombrero) runneth over: 'We've seen that just the right colours mixed and matched can look absolutely marvellous]' Next to her, man-of-the- turf Julian Wilson was wearing a prawn shirt under a tie of rich embarrassment red. Out of his left lapel, a clashing cerise carnation appeared to be trying to crawl round the side of his morning coat. A mix 'n' match made in hell.

Eve herself was in powder blue with pearls the size of mice. 'Well, blue is one of the . . . and I don't say this because I'm wearing it - but blue is one of the main colours today.' With only two cameras on frock duty, it wasn't easy to track down chic outfits, so Eve was obliged to improvise on the flower of English womanhood - mainly cabbage roses with the odd downy, pubescent tulip. Hell-for-leather gaiety was edged with panic: 'Big saucer spots, and she's determined to wear that whatever the weather]' And there was a hint of irreverence, as when the girl carrying the combined Sitwell genes in her nose peered out from an apple- green hat infested with daisies, and Eve murmured: 'It does take a lot of thought to look good at this occasion.'

The hardest humbug to swallow came during the carriage procession. Everyone knows that the Mad Hatter is by Royal Appointment, but you won't catch the BBC sharing the joke. The Queen was balancing a mandarin Angel Delight on her head ('Very pretty colour that'), while the Princess Royal sported a headpiece last seen as the losing entry in the Generation Game where you had to make an origami swan. 'Very nice to have younger Royals looking so attractive,' said Eve.

As if weary of this farce without laughs, the technology began playing tricks of its own. 'More flowers,' cried Eve unaccountably, as we zoomed in on a spotty number atop a lustrous raven head. The cameraman had clearly taken a shine to this sultry Barbara Carrera type and pursued her across the enclosure. 'Here's the yellow and orange or peach formation again]' Eve said as we focused on gusting white chiffon. Co-ordination had lost by several heads and a tangerine handbag.

Adultery - with Ray Gosling (BBC2, first of four) brought us the wages of sin before we got the expenses, which left you feeling a bit short-changed. There was no sense of that heady dash for freedom that thousands make every year to jump the life to come. The pleasure principle may be unprincipled, but any inquiry into 'a bit on the side' needs to recognise that it's bang in the middle of human impulses. Perhaps the producer, Tamasin Day Lewis, tackles this in the next episode. The first was compact with pain: Gosling talked to the offenders and the offended, who were all keeping quite still as if wearing coats of broken glass. There was Andrew, head shaved penitentially to a greyhound furze, standing outside his pigeon loft where the air was thick with regrets coming home to roost: 'She put it in the same category as someone dyin' when we parted.' We hear Gosling's pantomime sigh: 'So, why can't you get back together?' 'It's the troost.' Mark the squash player was bemused when his wife left him 15 months after their wedding: 'Basically we were very happy.' He pauses: 'Well, I certainly was.'

Gosling is already a great radio character, a humane patroller of the nowt-so-queer-as-folk beat. On Wed nesday on Radio 4 he was coaxing a chap to talk about his prize chrysanths. But the voice has to fulfil a range of tones on radio that are redundant when we can see a face. Gosling's swoops and lilts and cogitates and muses, laying random emphases which feel like. A Mor-ris. Traveller. Bump startin' on. A hill. On television, this is not endearing; in fact it sounds indulgent, as if Gosling can't tamp down the whimsy to let the interviewees' tales burn through. His matiness ('Andrew, all you did was go off with somebody]') does open people up, but he seldom follows through with a tough question. It was absurd to let Andrew and Claudette get away with not talking about their first marriages. And Gosling's homespun wisdom ('Some of us approach relationships differently at different times of life') left you longing for the manufactured variety.

Adultery taught you less about the agonies of betrayal than Nina Stemme, a stunning young Swedish soprano who gave special pleading a new meaning when she sang Mozart's 'Per pieta' (Have Pity) in Cardiff Singer of the World (BBC2). Plonking captions ('It will drive away the memory that fills me with shame') could not detract from the miracle of a Jessye Norman sound resonating out of a Garbo face. Shown over six nights, the contest was compulsive viewing, despite the best efforts of the presenter Natalie Wheen to distract us with backstage business. The guest critics were more enlightening but less entertaining than the singers who kept their brains in their diaphragms. Olafur, a 'reformed Icelandic rock star', had the looks of Boris Becker, the manners of Gazza and the essence of California: 'I meditate, and talk to all the gods in the universe.' Tito, a strutting Chilean, was an ex- racing driver, which gave Wheen another chance to plug the sponsors, BP ('a high-octane performer]'). Tito said his preparations featured 'no wimmin, no alcohol, so you can have power in the body' which made you laugh until you heard his 'Your tiny hand is frozen' when all cynicism melted away.

The South Bank Show (ITV) was back with an affectionate portrait of Dudley Moore, the only kind of portrait it seems able to paint in an age where criticism is seen as plain bad manners. If anyone deserves adulation it's Dudley, one of a handful of

performers whose company makes you feel better. Old clips - Dud doing a perfect Britten parody in spooky counter-tenor, Dud at the piano, breaking 'Just The Way You Look Tonight' into glittering fragments, Dud in Beyond the Fringe hopping in to audition for Tarzan ('a role that is traditionally associated with a two-legged man') - confirmed him as the ultimate variety act. But the fact remains that since Arthur in 1981 he has made a succession of turkeys that even Tesco wouldn't buy. It would not have been disrespectful to mention this, nor to wonder why such a gifted star can't find a proper place to shine. When the SBS was off the air, another arts show filled the gap: it was called Celebration] I fear Genuflect] is not far behind.

Programme of the week was Screen Play (C4), part of a fine animation season. Barry Purves's film told the story of thwarted lovers reunited in death as bluebirds on Japan's willow pattern. Any description is pedestrian besides this puppetry: a flicked fan changes a face from friend to foe, the set revolves ushering in winter, silent as dots on a disc of snow, the lovers are wrenched apart and wings clatter up through the dark over an egg-yolk moon. Michael Maloney read Ernst Loub's beautiful words with plangent sweetness. And out of balsa came something infinitely weighty, infinitely sad.

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